The Charles Schwab Challenge
It was a fantastic weeks viewing at the PGA Championship with Kiawah Island providing a tremendous challenge to the players.
I said on Twitter that the PGA of America should set up their Major to be played at Kiawah every year and while this comment was obviously made somewhat tongue in cheek the fact that we only see this Pete Dye gem on the South Carolina coast once every ten years or so is criminal in my eyes.
While the tournament was an incredible watch it ended in disappointment again for us with regards to our picks, as for the third week running having entered Sunday with great prospects of at least a good each way return if nothing more, things went south on the final day when it mattered. The men in question, Branden Grace who had been in the hunt all the way through, and Joaquin Niemann and Joel Dahmen who had moved in to place contention on Saturday, all sadly struggled hugely on the final day.
The tournament itself was won by Phil Mickelson who set the record for the oldest Major Champion in history. Lefty played some incredible golf over the four days and the scenes as he headed up the 18th fairway will long be remembered. Congratulations to him.
So onwards we go and after heading from Texas to South Carolina its back to Texas again for the Charles Schwab Challenge held at the Colonial Golf & CC in Fort Worth, Texas, about 30 mins drive from Dallas.
One of the longest standing events on the PGA Tour dating back to 1946 Colonial is closely associated with Ben Hogan who was a long time Fort Worth resident and won the tournament on five occasions.
Having been sponsored by Dean & Deluca in 2016 & 17 the tournament was without a sponsor in 2018, however in 2019 Charles Schwab took up the baton and the event became known as the Charles Schwab Challenge.
The tournament is one of six on the PGA Tour given ‘Invitational’ status. [The other five being The Genesis, API, RBC Heritage, Memorial & Quicken Loans], which means a more restricted field of 120 is on display. Last year when the event was the first to be held after the hiatus for the covid-19 pandemic was an exception to this as a field of 148 tee’d it up, including all of the world’s top five. This year though we have a return to the norm.
Despite the event being held the week after a Major the field is reasonably strong one with the market being headed up by local man Jordan Spieth. He is then followed by Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa and defending champion Daniel Berger.
Colonial Country Club is a Par 70 measuring at just over 7200 yards.
The greens are Bent Grass.
The course is seen as a classical test which can reward both short game specialists and ball strikers. Distance off the tee here is not an advantage here though with the premium being on finding fairways.
The signature section of the course is holes 3, 4 and 5, which are collectively known as The Horrible Horseshoe.
This section is made up of the Par 4 3rd and 5th holes and the Par 3 4th and year in year out this is the toughest stretch on the course.
The two Par 5s are the 1st and the 11th with the 11th, measuring over 600yds, often playing as a three shot hole to reach the green.
Looking at the winners over the past ten years and it is clear to see that two specific types of player seem to triumph here. Either the out and out short game wizards or the clinical ball strikers, with the former on balance historically getting most joy.
To back this up Let’s take a look at the last ten winners;
2020 Daniel Berger
2019 Kevin Na
2018 Justin Rose
2017 Kevin Kisner
2016 Jordan Spieth
2015 Chris Kirk
2014 Adam Scott
2013 Boo Weekley
2012 Zach Johnson
2011 David Toms
As we can see from this list we have Zach Johnson, Toms, Spieth, Kisner, Kirk and Kevin Na falling in the former category, while Rose, Scott, Boo Weekley and last year’s winner Daniel Berger were very much ones for the ‘ball strikers’ camp.
Furthermore you have the likes of Morikawa, O’Hair, English, Dufner, Grillo & Conners popping up in the frame over the past few years for the ball strikers camp, while Sneds, Freddie Jacobsen, Jonas Blixt and Ben Crane have placed for the short game specialists.
The message therefore seems to be loud and clear, to get the job done historically at Colonial you either need to be a short game magician or an elite ball striker. A jack of all trades isn’t what you’re looking for here.
One other thing that can be seen from this list of winners is that Colonial CC is not a venue that tends to see players bagging their first tour title at. On the contrary of the last ten winners only one of them, Kisner was posting their second tour win while all the others were multiple winners on the PGA Tour prior to their success here.
Past course form here also appears to be significant as looking at the last ten winners seven of them had previously recorded at least one top ten here, with the exceptions being Daniel Berger, Justin Rose and Adam Scott.
With regards to last years event, I think due to the odd circumstances of it being the first event played for three months and therefore all of the players having ‘competitive rust’ we do need to see that is something of an outlier. It is worth noting though that the champion, Daniel Berger, was arguably the most in form player on tour before the break posting three consecutive top ten finishes.
The other factor we need to consider this year as well of course is for the second occasion, after 2019, this event now follows on directly from a Major Championship, and therefore we need to factor in the old chestnut of ‘Major fatigue’ when considering backing players who were in the heat of the battle the week before, something, which could be particularly pertinent this week allowing for the gruelling nature of last weeks challenge at Kiawah Island.
I talked about this when previewing the RBC Heritage a few weeks back when noting that six of the past eight winners at Harbour Town had either missed the cut the previous week at Augusta or not played the Masters at all and even though the winner of this year’s Heritage, Stewart Cink, bucked this trend by performing strongly at Augusta I do think we must factor this in.
Furthermore the 2019 winner here Kevin Na followed this trend by missing the cut the previous week in the PGA at Bethpage Black, on what it must be said was about as polar opposite a challenge you can get to Colonial CC.
If we then take a look at recent form coming in and this also throws up another interesting trend. I noted already that last years winner Daniel Berger had been in fine form just prior to the shutdown and if we take a look at the previous nine winners here to Berger eight of them had posted a top fifteen finish in there previous three starts. Furthermore the odd one out, the 2013 champion Boo Weekley had finished sixth at the Zurich Classic four starts prior to his win here. It would clearly seem to be the case then that Colonial CC is not a venue where you find your game out of the blue.
The winning score has varied quite a bit here over the recent years with Adam Scott winning with a total of just -9 in 2014 and Kisner winning with -10 in 2017. However in 2010 Zach Johnson won with a total of -21, in 2016 Spieth won with -17, in 2018 Rose triumphed with a total of -20, in 2019 the winning number for Kevin Na was -13, while last year -15 got the job done for Daniel Berger.
As always this variation in score will be down to how firm or soft the course is playing and how much the wind picks up. In addition the year Scott won the rough was up more than average which put more of a premium on ball striking.
The early part of the week shows for the potential for storms and showers on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday so the players will most likely be greeted by a softish course on Thursday, which in theory would allow for low scoring.
While Thursday currently looks set to stay dry the remainder of the week shows the possibility of more storms on every day so we could be set for some interruptions.
Temperatures look set for the mid to high 80s all week.
Wind though, which is often a factor at Colonial and Texas in general, at the time of writing looks set to be an issue with gusts of over 20mph a possibility on all four days and Sunday currently showing 30mph as possible. If these winds come to fruition this would certainly help keep scoring in check.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JUSTIN ROSE – 33/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 20th
First cab off the rank this week is Justin Rose.
The 2013 US Open Champion has been in the doldrums for the past twelve months plus or so, in fact his last top ten on the PGA Tour in a regular event came here at Colonial CC when he finished third in the first event post lockdown.
Of late though Rose has returned to working with his long-time coach Sean Foley from whom he had briefly separated and there have certainly been some positive signs recently that he is starting to get back on track.
To expand this further looking at Rose’s stats this season it is easy to see where the problems have been as he currently sits 121st in approach play, 141st off the tee and 161st from tee to green, not a pretty picture. At the Masters though on his way to a seventh place finished Rose performed far more strongly throughout the bag and although he then struggled at the Valspar missing the cut he turned in another strong Major performance at Kiawah Island last week finishing eighth.
It should be added though with Rose pushing up through the field on Sunday at Kiawah courtesy of his final round of 67 he was never seriously in contention and therefore shouldn’t be feeling the mental fatigue that can be associated with this.
In South Carolina while Justin’s standout club for the week was the putter, he lead the field across the four days in SGP, he was also 17th in strokes-gained-off-the-tee for the week and 20th in good old Driving Accuracy.
With Justin posting his second Major Championship top ten in succession you have to think he will arrive in Fort Worth in good spirits and his mood should then be brightened further based on his stellar record in the event.
That record in question shows that Rose took to Colonial CC like a duck to water when first playing here in 2018 as on that occasion he took home the trophy. Furthermore after a lacklustre defence in 2019 he then finished third here in 2020 as noted earlier, having been in no form at all prior to the break.
History here shows that seasoned campaigners tend to perform well here and there is a precedent also for a player to post multiple wins here in recent times in the shape of Zach Johnson. Rose clearly loves the venue and with his confidence surely growing and his putter firing he looks to have all the credentials for a strong week and I am keen to have him on side.
BRANDT SNEDEKER – 66/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 50th
Next up for me this week is Brandt Snedeker.
There is no doubt it has been a struggle for Sneds since the tour resumed last June and until recently his best result had been a 17th place at the Sanderson Farms event last fall.
Prior to the Masters however Brandt, perhaps knowing that it was ‘win or bust’ to make the trip down Magnolia Lane, sprung to life in San Antonio at the Valero Texas Open, and while he did not manage to post the win he needed the momentum he gained from the sixth place finish he posted seems to have carried across to subsequent start,s as he has gone on to finish 11th and 17th in his last two starts to go with a fourth place finish in the Zurich pairs event alongside Keith Mitchell.
Looking at Snedeker’s most recent two performances and in both starts his most potent weapon over the years, the putter, was in good working order as he ranked eighth on the greens on both weeks and this certainly bodes well for this week. In addition the long game, which is of course Brandt’s weakness as a whole, has shown positive signs across both events, gaining strokes from both tee to green and in approach play in three rounds out of four at the Valspar and firing strongly on the first two days at the Byron Nelson before stalling over the weekend.
I mentioned earlier that Colonial has a habit of giving us winners who have already succeeded on multiple occasions before on the PGA Tour and from that point of view Brandt very much fits the bill this week. He also has the solid bed of form here, which includes a second place in 2015, which gives us the previous top ten finish here that seven of the past ten winners have had.
Finally with some wind in the forecast this week Snedeker is certainly a player who has shown us on numerous occasions over the years that he can thrive when it blows.
All in all as an experienced player in solid form who putts well and has played well here before Sneds ticks all the boxes I am looking for this week and I am keen to have him onside.
BRIAN HARMAN – 45/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED T8th
Another player who I really like the look of this week is Brian Harman.
Prior to missing the cut last week at Kiawah Island Harman had been on quite a tear in 2021 posting six top 20 finishes in 11 starts and not missing the cut once, furthermore five of those six top 20s have come in his five consecutive starts prior to his weekend off in South Carolina.
With regards to Brian’s missed cut in the PGA the initial reaction would be to think that the course was simply too long for him however if we look more closely at his numbers on Thursday and Friday we will see that his struggles were actually on the greens, where he ranked 128th for the first two days. The long game though was solid, gaining over three shots in approach play on Thursday and showing positive numbers from tee to green on both days. Baring in mind the area Brian actually struggles with most is his approach play and these numbers are really encouraging.
Returning to the putting and while a really poor week on the greens prior to putting him up here is not ideal of course Harman is actually one of the most solid putters on tour ranking 15th this season in SGP, so I am more than happy to just chalk up last week to an off week on the slow paspalum surfaces.
Looking past last weeks missed cut then and what we have with Harman is a player who arrives here in really solid form and is more importantly ideally suited to this shorter hitting test, something that can be clearly seen by his seven straight cuts made here, which include two top ten finishes.
Regardless as to what sort of form Harman has been in when arriving here over the years he always seems to turn in a solid performance here showing the course suits his eye, however it is clear that the times he has produced his best here is when he has had some strong results prior to coming in, for example his tenth in 2015 came two starts after his eighth at the Players and his seventh in 2017 came shortly after his most recent win at the Wells Fargo.
From that point of view Harman arrives here on the back of his third at the Players and fifth at the WGC not so long ago, as well as more recent solid finishes and I expect a big showing from him this week.
EMILIANO GRILLO – 60/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED T8th
As noted earlier two types of players tend to perform well here, the out and putting wizard or the really strong ball striker and my next pick Emiliano Grillo certainly falls in the latter category.
After a long spell in the doldrums Grillo is clearly back on track now posting four top fifteen finishes in his last eight starts.
The finish in this run, which caught my eye the most was when Grillo came home in second place at the RBC Heritage in April, an event, which has been a clear pointer to here over the years courtesy of the likes of Boo Weekley, Kevin Na, Kevin Kisner and Matt Kuchar who all have really strong records in both events.
One of the strongest ball strikers on tour Grillo has, as you would suspect in line with his resurgence, been firing on all cylinders from tee to green of late and he currently ranks fifth on tour in Ball Striking. What perhaps is even more encouraging though is Grillo has started to roll his rock better gaining shots on average across the four days at Hilton Head, Quail Hollow and last week at Kiawah Island.
Looking at Emilano’s record here over the years and with the exception of last year when he missed the cut straight out of lockdown, a result that was a precursor for a poor run of form, he has always performed strongly here and his third place finish in 2018 came on the back of a set of encouraging results at Hilton Head and Quail Hollow comparable to this year.
Grillo has been working with Chris Como now for a while and the results are beginning to show and having performed solidly last week in the PGA I expect him to continue his fine recent form this week and make a big push for a long overdue second PGA Tour title.
CT PAN – 125/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 32nd
For my final pick this week I am going to roll the dice on another player who ties the link well between Hilton Head and Colonial, CT Pan.
CT broke through in 2019 for his maiden tour title at the RBC Heritage in fine style, however as is often the way after a player bags their first trophy he suffered a downturn in form afterwards managing only one top 20 finish in the whole of the 19/20 campaign.
The 20/21 season however has seen Pan start to get back on track with a standout seventh place on his debut at Augusta last November and a more recent third place at the Honda Classic the highlights to date.
Looking at CT’s stats this season and while his long game has been solid enough the main area of concern has been the putter, however we saw that when he improved considerably in this department at the Honda what a difference this made to his week.
After that strong performance at PGA National Pan regressed to two missed cuts at Augusta and Hilton Head, however I am happy to forgive these performances, with I suspect the disappointment at the Masters leading to the tough week at Harbour Town, and instead focus on the fact he bounced back nicely at Quail Hollow last time out to finish 18th.
When CT posted his win at Harbour town in 2019 he was in no form at all coming in however he then went on to finish third at Colonial four weeks later, his only other top ten finish of the season. This time around the 29yr old returns to Fort Worth showing his best glimmers of form since that time two years ago and I am optimistic he can put in another big run here at juicy each way odds.
UPDATED 25th MAY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICK
PICK 1 - MAVERICK MCNEALY - DK VALUE $6900 - FINISHED 20th - DK POINTS 75.5
For my first sub $7K pick this week I am going to chance former amateur standout Maverick McNealy.
A hugely talented player, like a lot of the young guns on tour of this ilk, McNealy has had a very mixed bag of a time of things so far popping up with a big result every know and then in amongst a run of poor form.
What appears to becoming clear though is not being one of the biggest hitters on tour McNealy is most at home on shorter tracks where his best weapon on its day, his putter, can come to the fore.
This season Maverick has posted two top five finishes, one at Pebble Beach and one at Harbour Town, which both stick out like a sore thumb as correlating well to this week. Add that to the fact that McNealy has played solidly here on his two previous visits finishing 42nd and 32nd and I would expect him to perform well here again this week.
PICK 2 - JASON DUFNER - DK VALUE $6600 - FINISHED 65th - DK POINTS 59.5
There is no doubting that the last couple of years have been a real struggle on the course for former PGA Champion Dufner with no top tens on his CV since the Memorial in June 2019.
Over the last few weeks though there have just been some glimmers from Dufner that he may be starting to piece things back together, as while he has been unable to put four good rounds on his card he has produced three solid opening days at both the Valspar and the Wells Fargo events before crumbling on Sundays. Furthermore he opened up with a solid 71 at Kiawah Island last week before struggling on Friday.
Whilst these are small acorns of course they are certainly positive signs and if you then factor in the fact that Dufner posted three top tens here in a five year stretch before his game fell away and there are grounds to think he coould just pop up here again with a big week this week.